Globally, conference tourism is one of the fastest growing sub sectors of regular tourism. Hosting high level meetings is proven to be a very rewarding enterprise. In 2013, Singapore hosted 3.5 million conference delegates from all parts of the world and earned $ 5.5 billion in revenue. Many African countries see Singapore as a model of development. In its development agenda, Rwanda seems to have copied a page from Singapore’s manuscript. The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) established in 2008 to fast track development is a replica of Singapore Economic Development Board. There is nothing wrong with borrowing ideas from successful people. As a matter of fact, turning a blind eye to a course of action that delivers desirable results is unwise.
Like Singapore, a number of other countries have achieved a swift advance from third world status to developed economies. At the center of Southern Asia, between the two giants namely China and India, Malaysia has positioned its presence as a gateway to Asia. With a dynamic economy and English-speaking population, Malaysia has successfully become an international conference hub. Anette Palm, a director at the Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) says Malaysians have developed progressive world-views and their country is where the world convenes to find new discoveries and ideas. “World-class infrastructure, great value for money and a unique window to Asian cultures and hospitality make Malaysia the meetings and conventions nexus of Asia”. He adds.
MyCEB was formed in 2009 to raise Malaysia’s status as an international business events destination and develop the national product. Development of conference tourism commands hefty investment in infrastructure. Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur is setting the pace with a number of new developments including the expansion of Kuala Lumpur Convention Center. The center stands proudly alongside the famous Petronas Twin Towers, hotels, restaurants and a number of other eye-catching attractions.
The global MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibition) industry is worth $ 30 billion according to the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). Conference tourists are funded by their organisations and governments, hence bringing higher disposable income. Many local businesses benefit from these meetings. Conference delegations are a blessing to hotels, restaurants, entertainment spots, tour operators and travel agencies among others. Many more sectors of the economy reap huge benefits from these events.
Governments and private financiers are investing substantial amounts of money on conference facilities. The Kigali Convention Center is a product of investment made by multiple stakeholders including Crystal Venture, Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB), Rwanda Investment Group (RIG) and the government through Prime Holdings. Valued at over $ 300 million, the center consists of a 5-star hotel, a conference hall, several other meeting rooms and an office park. This investment is a testament of a strong commitment to transform Rwanda into an international conference magnet.
Neighbouring countries within the East Africa Community are also working hard to market themselves as ideal locations for conferences. The Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) and the Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC) have recognised the importance of conference tourism to the country’s economic growth and in enhancing its brand equity. In 2015, 117,670 delegates, representing 15.6% of the total international tourist arrivals attended conferences in Kenya making this East African country the third biggest conference tourism destination in Africa behind South Africa and Morocco. The sub sector is expected to perform even better in 2016. Tourism Cabinet Secretary, Najib Balala projects that conference visitors will hit 130,000 by the end of the year.
Recently, Kenya’s regular tourism numbers declined as a result of an economic downturn and a surge in insecurity. Facing uncertainties in the fate of the country’s top income earner, Kenya turned to bidding for the rights to host international conferences and the strategy helped to plug the revenue gap. Conference tourism is emerging as a top foreign exchange earner in Kenya. The Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) held in August was attended by 37 heads of state and over 10,000 delegates. Last year, Nairobi hosted the WTO Ministerial Conference and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Additionally, Nairobi welcomed the world during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in July 2015, presided over by the US president Barack Obama.
The meeting business is profitable. This realisation has prompted most African countries to pitch for international conferences. Rwanda is a new kid on the block when it comes to hosting major international meetings but the country is known for making rapid progress in priority areas. Rwandans have seen potential in conference tourism and by throwing all the resources they can muster into attracting more meetings, the land of 1000 hills will undoubtedly be hosting more and more business visitors. Over the past two years, Rwanda has hosted a number of high level international conferences including the 49th Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank, the World Economic Forum and the African Union Summit. With the completion of the Kigali Convention Center and the set up of the newly-formed Rwanda Conference Bureau (RCB), there is no doubt this momentum will be amplified.